Baltimore Co. seeks $9 million from owner of burning dump

October 24, 1992|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Baltimore County is suing the owner of the Granite stump dump for $9 million over damages it contends have been caused by the fire that has burned at the site for 19 months.

The suit, filed this week in Baltimore County Circuit Court against James Jett, came as bulldozers continued the process of burying the smoldering blaze under 250,000 cubic yards of dirt.

George G. Perdikakis, director of the Maryland Environmental Service, a non-profit firm overseeing the operation, said yesterday that the effort to bury the fire and eliminate the smoke should be completed in several months.

"I'd say 90 percent of the smoke is being controlled right now. But there's no science to predicting exactly how long it will take," he said. Even after the fire is smothered, he said, the site will have to be monitored for another year.

In the suit, the county charges that the fire, which dates to Feb. 2, 1991, resulted from the negligence of the operators of Patapsco Valley Farms, as Mr. Jett's Christmas tree farm and stump dump is called. The county contends that improperly stored flammable materials caused the fire.

The county also charges that, by continuing to operate the dump and accept new wood, Mr. Jett violated a court order against him and damaged the surrounding environment, including several streams running through the property. The claims are substantially the same ones the county has made at several court hearings over the course of the protracted dispute.

The suit asks $2 million for environmental damage, $2 million for negligence and $5 million in punitive damages.

Michael P. Tanczyn, Mr. Jett's attorney, said he didn't know about the suit and had no comment. In April, the county won a permanent injunction to stop Mr. Jett from accepting more debris.

The fire started in a pile of stumps that was once 100 feet high and covered five acres. For months, it raged openly, producing clouds of foul-smelling smoke that infuriated neighbors and drifted throughout the metropolitan area. Gradually, it spread deep within the huge pile. Attempts to drown the fire with water or smother it with foam or tear the pile apart all failed.

In August, Mr. Perdikakis was called in with the latest plan. The county will spend up to $1.6 million to bury the fire and bulldoze the site.

The fire is the bitter denouement of a dispute that began in 1984, when residents of the mostly rural area near the dump tried to get the county and the state to stop trucks bringing in stumps from construction sites around the region.

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